Photo Credit: Code Pink

The following update is based on a press release issued by Code Pink. You can read the entire press release here.

CODEPINK Group Travels to Gaza to Bring Aid and Witness Devastation From Israeli Assault

In the wake of the ceasefire brokered by Egypt, a 20-person delegation of American journalists and peace advocates is traveling to the decimated territory to witness the hardships now facing the 1.7 million residents, deliver emergency aid and call attention to the need for a longer-term strategy to achieve peace and justice for Palestinians.

The delegates include CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin; former State Department official and retired Col. Ann Wright, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence co-coordinator Kathy Kelly.

“The U.S. government allowed Israel carte blanche for eight days while it pounded more than 1,000 sites in Gaza, disproportionately killing civilians,” noted Wright. “Americans of conscience must witness and report back on the heavy price exacted by our support of Israel, so that taxpayers back home will call for a more humane, productive use of their hard-earned dollars.”

A total of 162 Palestinians were killed during the attack. An estimated 73 percent were civilians, including more than 25 children. Five Israelis were killed. “We mourn the loss of lives on both sides,” said CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin, “but we think it’s important to recognize the that the Palestinians have suffered much greater losses, and that the Israeli armaments used in the attack were financed largely by the United States, which sends Israel $3 billion in military funds every year.”

Continue here to read the complete Press Release.



Brian Moynihan and pink bra

“Stripping Protestors In Pink Bras Crashed Bank Of America CEO Brian Moynihan’s Speech,” declared Business Insider on March 8, showing Moynihan’s stern photo with a pink bra playfully dangling in the air beside him.

It’s true, things did get a bit wild at Citi’s Financial Services conference at New York’s Waldorf Astoria when Brian Moynihan got on stage and began flipping through his tedious powerpoint.

While the hotel security was busy watching anti-bank protesters rallying outside, CODEPINK cofounder Jodie Evans, dressed in a hot pink bustier, burst into the conference room. “Bust up Bank of America before it busts up America”, she shouted, before being hauled out by security guards. “As I was saying,” continued a deadpan Moynihan to the laughter of the crowd, returning to the dreary slides that tried to put a rosy spin on this dinosaur of a company whose share price has plummeted while it continues to foreclose on families’ homes and faces tens of billions of dollars in damages from lawsuits over mortgage investments.

Little did Moynihan know that the excitement at what is normally a bankers’ snoozefest had just begun. CODEPINK codirector Rae Abileah and I were already seated in the front of the room. Wearing dark business suits, we did our best to blend into the crowd of stodgy white men in black business suits.

While Moynihan was bragging that Bank of America ended 2011 with the most capital, liquidity and reserves ever in its history, I calmly walked on stage and began to disrobe while Rae deftly jumped on a table in front of the stage. As we shed our jackets and shirts, the startled CEO suddenly found himself flanked by women in pink bras, with Bust up B of A scrawled on our chests.

Taking the mic away from Moynihan, I addressed the audience of bankers and institutional investors. “Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day, and on behalf of 99 percent of women in this country who are disgusted by the unbridled greed of the big banks, we say it’s time to Bust Up the Bank of America.” I kept talking about the bank’s misdeeds as security guards jumped on stage and dragged me into the hall. To my delight, I could hear Rae, who was left standing on the table in her pink bra, shouting over the boos of the audience. “Stop foreclosing on people’s homes; stop the predatory lending; stop funding dirty coal. Mr. Moynihan, how can you justify making millions while bankrupting America?” she asked, as the security guards dragged her away. Indeed, in 2011, while millions of Americans were jobless and homeless thanks to the bankers, Moynihan received over $6 million in compensation.

Bank of America protestor on International Women's Day Credit: Rae Abileah

This protest was one of many taking place at Bank of America branches around the country on International Women’s Day. Organized by CODEPINK, Women Occupy and Occupy Wall Street, the protests were meant to highlight the effects of the financial crisis on women and the fact that, four years into this crisis, the same problems exist.

In the afternoon, those of us in New York moved on to protest at the Bank of America branch located across the street from famous Zuccotti Park. While protesters gathered outside the bank, a few of us, including Rae and myself, went inside early. Just as the “bank busters” tried to make their way inside, the manager locked the doors and refused to let anyone else in.

With only a three of us inside, we didn’t know whether to proceed or bail. We decided to say a few chants, sing a Break Up the Banks song we had practiced, and then make a quick exit. We had just taken off our shirts and belted out a few chants when the police stormed in.

I gathered my belongings, ready to follow what I assumed would be a request to leave. Instead, the police treated me like I was about to rob the bank, pinning my arms behind my back and putting me in handcuffs. “We were never asked to leave, we were only exercising our right to free speech, we didn’t harm anyone or block any doors,” I argued to no avail.

Meanwhile Rae, who had run outside, was brutally tackled to the ground, her head smashed against the pavement. Crying and clearly in pain, she was roughly pulled up and cuffed. So was Monica Hutchins, who was arrested by the same out-of-control officer for merely marching and singing on the sidewalk. Occupy Wall Street activist Mark Adams, who had come to Rae’s aid, was also grabbed and arrested.

I later learned that the gentle, soft-spoken Mark Adams had personal reasons for protesting the bank, and for joining the Occupy Wall Street movement. His father had been approved for a mortgage by a small private lender, but then his dad got sick and passed away. Mark tried to keep the house, but the lender sold the loan to Bank of America who then foreclosed, leaving him homeless.

The four of us, arrested at 2:30pm on March 8, were taken to the local jail, where we were booked, and then transferred to the infamous clink known as “The Tombs.” We were locked up in a dirty, freezing cell with about 15 women who had been picked up on various charges like prostitution, shoplifting, drug dealing and domestic violence. All our possessions, including our jackets, had been taken away, so we were stuck in the freezing cell with no coats or blankets. The sleeping accommodations consisted of three dirty plastic mats—meant for one person each—thrown on the floor to “share” among all of us. We spent a long, sleepless night shivering in the cold.

The women in the cell were proud of us for standing up to the banks; so were some of the police. “They were arrested for protesting against foreclosures at Bank of America,” one of the policemen told a policewoman while I was being fingerprinted. “I’m with you there,” she said. “Those bankers are thieves. They take government money to bail them out but then they refuse to lend money to black women like me. I lost my house because I couldn’t get a bank loan, even though I have a good, steady job.”

Her case is all too common. And minority women who do get loans have been targeted with the most expensive, punitive and toxic loans. Women are 32% more likely than men to receive sub‑prime mortgages, and Latina and African-American women borrowers are the most vulnerable.
After several rounds of fingerprinting, two iris scans, one disgusting peanut butter sandwich, and 26 hours in a cold cell, we finally got to see a judge. We were charged with two counts of trespassing, and have to return to court on March 30.

In jail, you see the stark contrast between those who create the economic havoc and those who really pay the consequences.
Meeting women locked up for such petty crimes as stealing a $40 bottle of perfume from Sephora, I thought about how much money CEO Brian Moynihan and his cronies have stolen from the American people. In fact, the very same day we were protesting, a whistleblower filed court documents charging Bank of America with knowingly and fraudulently seeking to limit homeowner mortgage modifications under the Home Affordable Modification Program.

Occupy Wall Street has been tapping into the anger against these unaccountable, “too big to fail” institutions, not only protesting against them but spurring a campaign to move many millions of dollars from Wall Street to Main Street. In the past year over a million Americans took their money out of big banks and opened accounts with credit unions. Credit union profit jumped 41 percent to $6.4 billion last year. The exodus continues this year, as greedy financial giants continue to squeeze their customers by hiking up fees.

While many of us are protesting, our government has failed to hold the banks accountable, prosecute the wrongdoers or restructure our financial system. The banks that were too big to fail then are even bigger now. The top 6 banks that had 7 trillion dollars in assets now have 9 or 10 trillion, and the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department continue to prop up these behemoths, instead of breaking them up into smaller, more sustainable banks. The Dodd-Frank legislation passed to regulate the financial institutions is too cumbersome (2,300 pages compared to the 24-page Glass-Steagall Act); the big banks with their fancy lawyers can find all kinds of loopholes, while the smaller banks are now forced to pay for the avarice of the big ones.

Looking back on March 8, going to jail for justice was an appropriate way to commemorate a day that, starting in 1911, was a call by women workers for shorter hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to discrimination. Our foremothers like hell-raiser Mother Jones would certainly approve of standing up to rapacious banks and bankers. She might have even approved of the pink bras. After all, the feisty Mother Jones did have this advice for women: “Whatever your fight, don’t be ladylike.”

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of  and Please join us in calling on the bank to drop the charges against us.

Code Pink and Global Exchange Co-founder Medea Benjamin holding a teargas canister in Bahrain, Feb 2012

The following is a guest post by Tighe Barry who is a member of the peace group  Tighe Barry was part of an observer delegation in Bahrain with the peace group Code Pink.

As part of an observer delegation in Bahrain with the peace group Code Pink, I visited the village of Bani Jamrah with local Bahraini human rights activists.

In one of the many horrific cases we heard, a 17-year-old boy Hasan, his friend and his 8-year-old brother left their home to go to the grocery store. As they were entering the store they noticed some other youngsters running. Fearing the police would be following them, they decided to wait in the store. The 8 year old hid behind a refrigerator. The police entered the store with face masks on. They grabbed the older boys, pulling them out of the store and into the street.

Once outside the shop the police began to beat them with their sticks and hit them on the head, shouting obscenities and accusations. The police were accusing them of having been involved with throwing Molotov cocktails, asking over and over “Where are the Molotov cocktails?”

The four policemen, all masked and wearing regulation police uniforms, took turns beating the boys while one was instructed to keep watch to make sure no one was video taping. They seemed to be very concerned that there be no witnesses. Quickly, they forced the boys into the waiting police car. Inside the police vehicle was another youth about 18 who appeared to be “Muhabharat,” or plain-clothes police thugs associated with many dictatorships in the Middle East.

As the car sped off, the boys were told to keep their heads down “or we will kill you.” Soon they arrived at an open lot away from possible onlookers. As the two boys were being pulled from the car, the policeman who seemed to be in the charge shouted, “Make them lie down.” Once they were face down on the ground, the policemen took out their knives and stabbed both boys in the left buttock, leaving a gaping wound. The police thugs continued their “questioning”, using profanity to scare their victims. They threatened the boys that they would go to jail for 45 days for “investigation” and that they would never go back to school or get work.

When the thugs realized that they had no choice but to leave these victims, since they had no knowledge of the Molotovs, they searched them to see what they could steal. They took the boys’ mobile phones and asked them to hand over whatever money they had. When they discovered that the boys only had 500fils (about $1.50US), they kicked one of them in the raw wound, laughing as they left them bleeding.

“Who are these masked police and why would they do such things to children?”, you might ask. The boys said they were Syrian immigrants, part of a mostly foreign police force imported by the government and paid to inflict pain on the local people to dissuade them from protesting for their rights.

I asked if the police checked their hands, or smelled their clothes to detect the presence of petrol, since they were accusing the boys of carrying Molotov cocktails. Hussan, laying uncomfortably on his stomach, still in his bloody pants, answered, “No, they made no investigation. These police don’t investigate, they only accuse and punish. We had no contact with petrol, we are students.”

In the corner of the room was Husan’s aunt, holding a little baby that looked very sickly, the red hue of its skin almost burnt looking and its tiny eyes sore and red. I was straining now in my inquiry, like having to push words out my throat. “How old is your child?”, I asked. “Eight months old”, she replied. I knew about the nightly raids in this community, as I happen to be staying less than 200 meters from there and can see the light show each night as hundreds of teargas canisters are shot into this tight grip of middle class houses.

“How do you stop the teargas from getting in the house and affecting your baby?”, I inquired in a pained voice. I, myself, although not in village, feel the effects of the massive clouds of poison that pour over the entire area at night.

“Well, sir, wet towels, we place them each night under the doors,” she answers, as she lights down on the couch near a large flat screen television. “But, sadly, sir, this does not stop the gas. The baby suffers. I try to cover her face with a cloth but she does not like it and cries at the gas and the cloth at the same.”

“One way to stop the gas is to put plastic over the air conditioning unit,” she continued, “but the policemen always cut off the plastic and the gas seeps back inside quickly.”

They showed me a homemade video of those white-helmeted terrorists, using the very same issued knife that they used to cripple the boys, systematically, methodically removing the plastic that was placed to prevent the venomous gas from entering the house. Once removed, they can now shoot the gas, knowing that it will enter the house and poison all inside, especially the kids.

And so it goes in the Kingdom of Bahrain. So it goes in a world so addicted to oil, money and power that children can be stabbed, kidnapped, tortured, terrorized and gassed with nary a word from the outside world.

Are we, in America, so addicted to oil and beholden to powerful Saudis that we will block our ears to the cries of these Bahraini children? Or will we help them grow up in a world where they can know the joy and security that we all want for ourselves? The choice is ours.

Medea Benjamin holding a teargas canister in Bahrain

Yesterday we shared with you a report by Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, who is in Bahrain right now. Today, 6 US citizens were arrested in Bahrain. Here’s  Medea’s latest message:

I write to you from the front lines of the violence rocking Bahrain. Today six US citizens– including CODEPINK’s very own Paki Wieland– were arrested by Bahraini security forces in Manama during a peaceful protest on the way to the Pearl Roundabout. Protesters had marched into the city center to reestablish a presence of nonviolent, peaceful protest on the one year anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain.

February 14 isn’t Valentines Day in Bahrain. It’s the one year anniversary of the people rising up to demand freedom – an effort brutally crushed by their government and Saudi tanks. This year, they are commemorating February 14 with massive demonstrations, and I am in Bahrain today for the demonstrations with an observer delegation.

Asked by courageous Bahraini human rights activists to come bear witness, what could we say but yes? What a great way to spend Valentines Day, showing our love for activists who put their lives on the line for freedom. Unfortunately, many on the delegation were not allowed into Bahrain, and since we arrived in the country two days ago, we have been incessantly teargassed along with thousands of Bahrainis, with teargas made in the USA. It is shameful to know that my government continues to sell weapons to this repressive regime.

Show your love for the brave Bahraini protesters by signing this petition calling on President Obama to stop new arms deals with Bahrain. Support the people in the street fighting for their rights, from Egypt to Bahrain and Oakland to Washington DC!

Paki, now in custody, holds a canister of Made in USA tear gas in Bahrain

Here’s more about the US citizens arrested in Bahrain today, from our friends at Voices for Creative Nonviolence:

The international observers were in Bahrain as part of Witness Bahrain, an effort aimed at providing civilian presence to report and monitor the situation on the ground. Leading up to February 14, the one year anniversary of pro-democracy protests, Bahraini authorities had prevented journalists, human rights observers and other internationals from entering the country, leading many to fear a brutal crackdown.

Just yesterday, Secretary of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated that the US wanted to see the “security forces exercise restraint and operate within the rule of law and international judicial standards.” But she failed to condemn the violent arrests of US international observers, the detainment of numerous Bahraini pro-democracy activists (including President of the Bahraini Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab) and the ongoing use of overwhelming amounts of tear gas.

The six US citizens were part of a peaceful protest marching towards the Pearl Roundabout – site of last year’s peaceful round-the-clock protest in Bahrain, modeled after Egypt’s Tahrir Square – when they were attacked. Bahraini authorities appear to have targeted the Witness Bahrain observers, as one volunteer was told that she was detained for reporting on the February 11th Manama protest.

The six observers remain in Bahraini custody in the Naem Police Station in Manama. This group of internationals is the second to be deported by the Bahraini government. Attorneys Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath were deported on Saturday, February 11th. The two were handcuffed for the duration of their flight from Bahrain to London.

Several international observers remain on the ground.

Biographies of the six arrested international observers:

  1. Kate Rafael works at a San Francisco law firm and is a radio journalist, blogger and political activist from Oakland, California.
  2. Flo Razowsky is photographer and community organizer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a Jewish anti-Zionist activist with Witness Bahrain and several Palestine solidarity organizations.
  3. Linda Sartor teaches graduate school, and is a community activists based out of Northern California. She has been a human rights activist in Palestine, Sri Lanka, Iran, Afghanistan and Bahrain.
  4. Paki Wieland is a retired social worker/family therapist educator in the Department of Applied Psychology, Antioch University, Keene, New Hampshire. Since the 1960s, she’s also been a dedicated anti-war and civil rights activist.
  5. Mike Lopercio is a restaurant owner from Arizona and has visited Iraq with a Military Families delegation.
  6. Brian Terrell lives and works at Strangers and Guests Farm in Maloy, Iowa. He is a long time peace activist and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Take Action! Once again, sign this petition calling on President Obama to stop new arms deals with Bahrain. Support the people in the street fighting for their rights, from Egypt to Bahrain and Oakland to Washington DC!



Rainy, wet and fabulous.

1/23/2012 Update: Watch the new video “Embody the Movement” of J20 & the One People Flashmob just added towards the end of this post.

On January 20, Occupy Wall Street West made ‘business as usual’ uncomfortable in the financial core of  San Francisco. Despite copious rain, protests began at 6am, continued at Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches, moved to the courts, back to Bechtel and the banks, labor and immigrant rights marches targeting I.C.E offices and culminating with a huge and spirited march up Market St as night fell. Occupy SF later held a General Assembly on the top of the vacant Cathedral Hill Hotel and dropped the ‘People’s Food Bank of America banner off the side of the building.  Read a report back from the morning’s actions here.

Disrupting business at three banks or more was no small feat.  Kudos to those that peacefully blocked the doors by locking arms inside PVC pipes and sat there for over 8 hours, preventing the banks from opening. Rainforest Action Network was hard at work looking for the corporation/person Mr. Bank O. America, highlighting the result of the FEC vs Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which prohibits governments from placing limits on corporations or unions on independent political spending. Throughout the day people carried signs and chanted, “Corporations are not  people”, “Money is not speech” and “People before profit”.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Global Exchange, Fellowship of Reconciliation, New Priorities Campaign and others were present outside the Bechtel headquarters all day, protesting Bechtel’s practice of greed and destruction. A record of the day, as well as links to Bechtel facts is at the @bechtelaction twitter feed. Bechtel spends millions on campaign contributions and lobbyists who secure war contracts, undermining democratic process, while directing billions of public dollars to build nuclear weapons and make its CEO a billionaire. Bechtel received more than $2 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to fund infrastructure rebuilding projects in Iraq. Its Pentagon contracts increased $700 million in 2009 after heavy lobbying on the military spending bill, and rose to $2.49 billion in 2011. Kirsten Moller describes the morning’s events here.

At 3pm about 75 people gathered to hear testimony about Bechtel, the impacts of war and occupation in the US and abroad. Global Exchange’s Dalit Baum spoke about corporate profiteering from war and ‘conflict management. Watch it here. At the end, IVAW members staged Operation First Casualty – recreating the situation and conditions present in Iraq which allow US military to arbitrarily detain civilians, by abducting members of the teach in. IVAW members had staged this action at different locations throughout the day and created a loud, aggressive and frankly, scary environment that brought home the sense of terror that people in Iraq and other occupied countries experience every day. The action is captured here. It contains strong language.

The action drew attention to a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that obliterates constitutionally protected due process rights, permitting the the arrest and indefinite detention of US citizens anywhere in the world, including the US. More information about the NDAA can be read here.

The People’s Food Bank of America served up food to everyone at Justin Herman/Bradley Manning Plaza and Dancing Without Borders and CodePINK staged the ‘One People’ Flashmob before we marched up Market street behind the ‘Seize the Banks’ banner. Many folks sought shelter before arriving to the Cathedral Hill Hotel to post photos (a great stream of photos from the day are here), videos and blogs, warm wet feet and reflect on the Day of Action – believing that whatever happens next – we are unstoppable.

Added 1/23/12: Check out this new video “Embody the Movement of J20 & the One People Flashmob:

See below for an update to this post added on 10/24/11:

This morning when, Wanda, long time Global Exchange board member, called after President Obama announced a date for the return of all US troops from Iraq my reaction was the same as almost everyone else in our office. “Is this for real? What is he not telling us?” But you can listen to it over and over again:

“After nearly nine years, the long war in Iraq will come to an end……and all the troops will home for the holidays this year.”

Why aren’t we aren’t dancing in the streets the same way we did when he was elected with the promise to end the war in his first term?

Obama announced that he and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed that the troop withdrawal marks a beginning for a “new and enduring partnership”  based on a “normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”  He said that “We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. “

In fact, the two of them have been meeting to hash out the Strategic Framework for the Status of Forces since 2008 and are actually complying with a treaty that Maliki and Presisdent Bush made three years ago, which the Prime Minister is refusing to modify in order to accommodate the US’s desire to maintain a military presence beyond this year. The Status of Forces agreement eliminates immunity for military actions, making it impossible to keep US forces there since they would actually be held accountable in Iraqi courts for civilian deaths and destruction.

So yes, this Friday’s announcement is good news, and somewhere enduring peace activists should be dancing in the streets. In Iraq, I’m sure people are feeling proud of the fact that they have stood up to the most powerful nation in the world and insisted on their own sovereignty and their right to an equal partnership. Obama would not have been forced to make this announcement today, which will definitely mean less death and destruction, had it not been for the strength of the peace movement at the end of the Bush era and without the steadfast Iraqi resistance to US occupation.

The price has been high  — over 4400 US deaths, and an untold number of Iraqi deaths (over 112 000, according to Iraq Body Count), destruction of infrastructure for water, health and electricity and irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures. There are millions of refugees who have fled to all parts of the world who now have to contemplate uprooting their lives again and joining the massive rebuild effort, or remain exiles.

Questions still remain because of the murky status of “contractors” paid for by US tax payers. Thousand of these contractors will remain in Iraq to train Iraqi police. The US will continue to operate the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad. It’s not clear if these 4000-5000 trainers will have immunity from the Status Agreement.

And now 40,000 US soldiers are coming home to a country where no jobs await them. Global Exchange’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who has traveled to Iraq 5 times since 2003, has organized with a campaign with CodePink to “Bring the War Dollars Home” in order to draw attention to how the economic crisis in the US is inextricably tied to excessive military spending. She says,

“January 1st will be a historic moment to disentangle us from the quagmire in Iraq, but we are still left with the one in Afghanistan that is now scheduled to drag on for years to come in a statement regarding the troop withdrawal, “We call on President Obama to recognize how the unwinnable Afghan war is contributing to the economic crisis and to put a quick end the US involvement in that tragedy as well.”

I wish our response to the announcement were more unqualified – that instead of questioning the meaning of “bringing the troops home”, we knew it would happen and that we would begin the process of making it right.  Iraqis deserve reparations — we should support the Iraqi economy from afar, bring our troops home from every other foreign nation as well, and use the “savings” ($3 billion a week) to begin converting our own economy to nonviolent, clean industries which create jobs for our people and stability for the region.

UPDATE ADDED 10/24/2011:

To read more on the topic, check out this article co-written by Global Exchange Co-founder Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis: “Only ‘Success’ in Iraq Is That US Troops are Leaving.”

The following is a guest blog post by Alli McCracken from our sister organization CODEPINK:

“Assault? Who- or what- did I assault??” I asked the police officer incredulously as I sat in his office at the police station, handcuffed to the wall. “Well, looks like it was Leon Panetta himself,” the officer responded as he flipped through a pile of paperwork.

Me? A 22-year-old mild-mannered peace activist, assaulted the Secretary of Defense? I had simply tried to tell him how I felt about the wars. On the morning of October 13th about 25 activists who are occupying Washington DC, as part of the nationwide occupations, went on a field trip to Congress. We wanted to attend the House Armed Services Committee hearing where Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, and Martin Dempsy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were testifying about “lessons learned by the Department of Defense over the preceding decade” and “how those lessons might be applied in the future in light of anticipated reductions in defense spending.” After all, these hearings are open to the public. And shouldn’t we have a say in where our money is being spent?

As a peace activist with the group CODEPINK for the past 10 months, I have done my fair share of sending letters and emails and delivering petitions to our government representatives, asking them to stop pouring trillions of our taxpayer dollars into the endless cycle of death, destruction and reconstruction halfway across the world. There are so many critical things that we could spend that money on here in America, such as education, healthcare, helping the homeless, the elderly, the disabled, the veterans.

The activists who I have been camping out with in Freedom Plaza since October 6th share the same sentiments. That morning about 25 of us, sporting social justice slogans on pins, hats and shirts, got to the hearing several hours early so we could be first on line to get in. It didn’t take long for the Capitol Police to appear. They began to congregate around us, and several of them were already holding the flexi-cuffs they use now in lieu of traditional handcuffs (they’re recyclable, so I learned).

A Congressional staffer came out into the hallway and barked at us: no demonstrating, no protesting, no outbursts, no signs. Not even before the Chairman of the Committee hits the gavel, marking the start of the hearing. We were surprised that we couldn’t even hold up our signs before the hearing began, as we are usually able to do. “So you’re taking away what little shred we have of free speech in these pubic hearings?” asked Medea Benjamin, a CODEPINK cofounder who has been to many a hearing. “I thought this was a democracy!” The staffer ignored her and walked away.

We were even more upset when we learned that the room was already stacked with seats reserved for staffers, and that only 15 members of the public would be allowed in. So much for a “public hearing.”

Soon they started letting people into the hearing room- but only 5 at a time, and the police escorted us in under a careful eye as if we were unruly children. They told us any form of demonstrating would result in immediate ejection from the hearing and possible arrest. One man asked, “You mean even if I do this?” and held both his arms up, making peace signs with his fingers. Absolutely, the police responded. We laughed at the absurdity.

A few minutes after all the Congresspeople had slowly made their way to their seats, Panetta and Dempsey entered the room flanked by several staffers. Media cameras crowded around them at the witness table as they sat down, about 15 feet away from me.

Quickly I sprung up out of my seat, pulling out my homemade sign that read: FUND MY EDUCATION, NOT YOUR WARS. I had been in Congressional hearings many times, and I had never come so close to risking arrest, but I was determined to get my message out. “Secretary Panetta, when are we going to stop funding war and start rebuilding America? We have been at war for almost half my life and guys my age have PTSD. My generation deserves better!” I continued to shout as Capitol Hill police dragged me out the door.

Outside were about 15 people who were not let into the hearing and together we chanted the Occupy Wall Street slogan, “We! Are! The 99 percent!!”

The next person to speak out inside the hearing was Michael Patterson, from Anchorage, Alaska, who has been sleeping out in McPherson Square in DC for 8 days and nights. Michael is a 21-year-old vet who was an interrogator in Iraq- at the age of 18! He has been extremely affected by what he saw there and as soon as Panetta started speaking, Michael denounced U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. “You are murdering people. I’ve seen it. You are murdering people,” he shouted as the police tackled him.

Michael was overcome with emotion and as a result his disruption was the most intense- and hopefully the most effective. Some reports mention that members of Congress seemed startled by his message. When asked about his motivation for this action, Michael responded, “Certain elements of the American government are accomplices in genocide. These wars have caused the death of up to a million Iraqis, an unknown number of Afghans, and  thousands of US soldiers. They have ruined the lives of millions. The truth is out there and people are just choosing apathy. It’s time to hold those accountable for what they have done and when the time comes, the excuse ‘I was just following orders’ will not be acceptable.”

After Michael, six other individuals stood up during the hearing and expressed how they felt about these wars, whether by holding up peace signs silently, or speaking softly, or shouting and holding up a sign. After each person was arrested, the rest clapped in support, and the other activists still waiting in the hall chanted continuously calling for an end to the wars.

The eight of us were rounded up outside the building, then hauled off in a paddy wagon to the police station, where I spent over 6 hours being processed and narrowly avoided spending the night in jail. They gave us all citations, and everyone was charged with disrupting Congress, except for me. I was charged with simple assault of Leon Panetta.

It’s funny more than anything, because I was nowhere near Secretary Panetta during my outburst. It turns out that my charge, “simple assault”, is a crime that causes “a victim to fear violence”. It is a sad day when a government official feels endangered by a citizen practicing her freedom of speech. Is our highest military official after the President frightened by a young woman with a sign calling for our funds to be spent on education, not war?

A little while after the activists were thrown out of the hearing room, Representative Pingree put Secretary Panetta on the spot. She wanted to know what he thought about the protests inside the hearing, since they reflect the views of the majority of people throughout the country who want to see an end to the wars. He responded by acknowledging our frustration after 10 years of war and talking about the timelines set up to withdraw the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that the Secretary of Defense was forced to acknowledge and respond to our concerns is in itself a victory. The strength our messages carried did not just come from us, or the people in the hallway supporting us, but from people rising up all over the country- and it is clear that our government officials are starting to feel the heat.

Since the story of the seven arrests hit the news, I have received a surprising amount of support from friends and strangers. Several of the messages are actually from active members of the military who told me our actions inspired them to seriously think about what they are doing overseas. A few mentioned that it sparked discussion among the people they are serving with. For the most part, they were struck by people’s willingness to risk arrest for something they believe so passionately about.

We are part of the growing Occupy movement sweeping the country, and we are becoming much stronger than the sum of our parts. Drawing strength in numbers, both seasoned and new activists are feeling an incredible sense of empowerment and are taking more risks- including arrestable offenses- so that our voices will be heard. We are determined that our policy makers listen to the sentiment of the people, as expressed in the chants that were echoing in the hallway: We are the 99 percent and we say no to all these wars!!!

UPDATE (Oct 14 9:05am pst): The ‘cleaning’ of Zuccotti Park has been postponed! Thanks to everyone who made calls last night!

UPDATE (Oct 13 6:30pm pst): It is now being widely reported that the New York Police Department, under orders from Mayor Bloomberg, will attempt to evict Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park tomorrow for a ‘cleaning’ at 7am est. TAKE ACTION!

1. Sign the MoveOn. org petition here.

2. Call Mayor Bloomberg 1-212-772-1081 ext 12006 and demand that the eviction be stopped. asks that you post a message about what happened here.

3. If you are in the New York City area, find out about the direct action being planned for tomorrow at 6am est here.


Say what?

At noon on Thurs Oct 13, the website listed 1599 cities with Occupy Wall Street protests from Iceland to New Zealand. This online hub of the movement represents a huge number of the events in solidarity with OWS concentrated in North America, and growing internationally. Other online sources include united for #globalchange and the powerful video rallying us to take action.

This leaderless, politically neutral movement is big, and growing and if you are part of the 99%, it includes you.

This Saturday October 15 join a local occupation – big or small, together we are powerful together as we raise our voices to say Enough is Enough! Enough of the bank bailouts by the taxpayers! Enough of the cuts to social welfare programs, schools and hospitals to sustain the cost of wars! Enough of non-action in Congress to address the climate crisis! Enough of the unlimited election campaign contributions by corporations thanks to Citizens United, enough of the attack on worker rights!

Endorsements and messages of support to the movement surface daily – from major labor unions, celebrities, social justice organizations, activists such as Naomi Klein, and international leaders including Lech Walesa.

Even progressive companies have expressed support. The board of directors at Ben and Jerry’s stated “… we realize that Occupy Wall Street is calling for systemic change. We support this call to action and are honored to join you in this call to take back our nation and democracy.”

Alternative media outlets such as Democracy Now! are producing amazing comprehensive reports of what is happening in this country. Initially ignored by the corporate media, the sheer number of people engaged for change has become the most important domestic story.

Through daily general assemblies, workshops and internet organizing our demands are coalescing. The folks in Freedom Plaza in Washington DC will spend the next week defining a vision on 15 key issues impacting our ‘system’ and encourage everyone to join. Go outside or go online, talk to your friends, family, neighbors and even strangers, we are the 99%.

Start here – check out this photo blog and join the 99%. Then sign the World vs Wall St petition and stand will a million others.

As GX and CodePINK co-founder Medea Benjamin stated on Democracy Now!:

“We are here to stay. We are here just like we were here yesterday and the day before yesterday and the day before that. It really doesn’t matter to us that our permit has run out. We feel like this is a public square, we are the public, and we are occupying this square, so we will stay here” (the Freedom Plaza permit has now been extended for 4 months).

And although New York Mayor Bloomberg stated, “The bottom line is, people want to express themselves, and as long as they obey the laws, we’ll allow them to” plans are under way to remove the encampment at Zuccotti Park, sign this petition now!

Perhaps Reverend Billy says it best:

The change that is in the air, that we all feel. No-one really knows why we are blessed with the common feeling. This same slaughter of the innocents has gone on for so long. This same mystical financing of poisoned farms, of dead oceans, of cancerous children and national false emotions – all this comes at us now as a bad surprise. We have a fresh rage. We have a shout that is honest, thousands of us. We are occupying our civic institutions stolen so long ago by men in suits, and surrounded by confused police. All at once, we want a better life and don’t want to wait. Then this discovery: It is a better life to demand a better life! Revolujah!

At Global Exchange we’ve taken action locally and joined 2 of the Occupy SF marches and look forward to Saturday. Join us here!

In Oakland: MoveOn and its allies stand together, WORKERS and COMMUNITY UNITED for JOBS not CUTS, PROSPERITY not AUSTERITY! Hands Off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid! End the Wars! Invest in Our Communities!
1:00 PM Assemble at Laney College (1 block from Lake Merritt BART)
1:00 PM Pre-March Program
2:30 PM March Downtown
3:30 PM Rally in Frank Ogawa Plaza (12th Street Oakland BART stop)

In San Francisco:
1:00 PM Meet at Embarcadero BART

Enough is Enough!

Medea Benjamin

The following was written by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, and a passenger on The Audacity of Hope.

Instead of high-fiving each other for their success in thwarting the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Israeli officials should be throwing overboard the propaganda hacks who catapulted the flotilla into headline news for weeks and left Israel smelling like rotten fish.

Last year, when the Israeli military killed nine aboard the Turkish ship, the incident made waves around the world. But in previous years, the same international coalition had sent boats to Gaza five times, successfully reaching their destination with a symbolic shipment of humanitarian aid. No blood, no military interception, no story. That’s why the advice of many of Israel’s best buddies, including the lobby group AIPAC, was to just ignore the flotilla.

But no, the Israeli government refused to listen and instead announced with great bravado that it was prepared to stop the flotilla with lethal force—including snipers and attack dogs. Smelling blood, the media frenzy began. Before even leaving home, passengers were besieged with press calls inquiring why we were willing to risk our lives and giving us a chance to talk about the plight of the people of Gaza. Worse yet from the Israeli government perspective, mainstream media began bombarding us with requests to come along. With space for only ten media on our boat, we ended up choosing reps from CNN, CBS, Al Jazeera, AP, The Nation and Democracy Now. Other boats in the flotilla also started scrambling to accommodate more press. Thanks to Israel, we were guaranteed that no matter what happened, the whole world would be watching.

The Israeli government’s next blunder was a doozy. It sent a letter to foreign journalists warning them that if they participated in the flotilla, they would be denied entry into Israel for ten years and their equipment would be impounded. The outcry from journalists and media organizations worldwide was immediate. Israel’s Foreign Press Association said the threat “sends a chilling message to the international media and raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to rescind the decision, blaming it on his underlings.

But the blunders continued. A YouTube video of a “gay rights activist” who claimed he was not allowed to join the flotilla because he was gay and linked the flotilla to Hamas was exposed as a hoax disseminated by employees of the Israeli Government Press Office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Senior Israeli defense officials told journalists that flotilla activists were intending to dump bags of sulfer on Israeli soldiers to paralyze them and/or light them on fire “like a torch.” We countered by holding an open house on the boat, inviting the media to inspect every nook and cranny and meet with nurses, lawyers, musicians, writers, grandmothers and other “terrorists” on board. The Israeli government looked so silly that even cabinet ministers criticized Netanyahu’s “media spin” and “public relations hysteria.”

Then there was the sabotage of the Irish and Swedish boats, the frivolous lawsuits and legal complaints by the Israeli Law Center (Shurat HaDin), the strong arming of the Greek government to issue a ban on all boats traveling to Gaza, and undoubtedly more dirty tricks that will be exposed in the future.

Through it all, the Israelis helped us turn a potential non-story into a media blitz that has not ended. The passengers are now returning home to the local public spotlight. Rather than being depressed by Israeli maneuvers to prevent the flotilla from reaching its destination, they are more motivated to speak out about the siege of Gaza and bullying tactics of the Israelis. Flotilla organizers are still fighting to get their boats released by the Greek government and vow to try again.

Our modest and peaceful initiative has exposed, for the world to see, the lengths the Israeli government will go to to stop nonviolent international initiatives. We have put the plight of Gaza and the illegality of the siege once again on the radar where it was previously ignored. We have exposed the sad but ultimately unsustainable fact that the Israelis have managed to extend their vindictive siege of Gaza to the shores of Europe and have widened the gulf between the Greek government and Greek popular sentiment with regard to Palestine.

Most importantly, we have given a boost to the larger, massive, multicultural, multinational movement for Palestinian rights. This Friday, hundreds of international activists are flying to Ben Gurion airport where they plan to tell border control agents of their intent to visit Palestine. This “flytilla,” as it has been dubbed, has also aroused a hysterical response from the Netanyahu government. Here again, the world’s attention will be focused on Israel’s control and blockade of movement in and out of the West Bank. The Knesset is on the verge of passing a bill that will effectively outlaw boycotts, a law that will likely only strengthen the resolve and increase the size of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. And then there will be the showdown at the United Nations, when Palestinians will be calling for recognition as a state.

The Israeli government can only continue its egregious violations of human rights and torpedoing nonviolence initiatives for so long. Eventually, justice will prevail and Palestine will be free. And initiatives like the flotilla will be remembered as part of a continuous wave of resistance that helped turned the tide.


The following post was originally sent to our News and Action e-mail list. Be the first to get urgent news updates and action alerts by signing up to our e-mail lists.

This week, the international Gaza Freedom Flotilla II: “Stay Human” of ten boats will attempt to depart from Cyprus towards Gaza. The mission of the flotilla states, “our destination is Gaza. Our means are non-violent. Our goal is to lift the illegal siege, completely and permanently, and freedom for the Palestinian people.” Most of the boats are carrying much needed humanitarian aid to donate to the people of Gaza. Global Exchange co-founder Medea Benjamin, former U.S. Army colonel, peace activist and Global Exchange board member Ann Wright, 2007 Global Exchange Human Rights Awards recipient Alice Walker and 2003 HRA recipient Kathy Kelly, are on board the US boat, Audacity of Hope, along with 31 other activists and 3 crew.

Gaza is still under siege. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.S.-backed Israeli blockade that is in place, “deliberately impoverishes … and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution.” Posted on the website US Boat to Gaza, Medea and other passengers aboard the Audacity of Hope share their stories of why they are going to Gaza.

This weekend Medea posted, “Is Greece Being Blackmailed to Put the Brakes on Gaza Flotilla?” raising questions about political maneuvering to stop the flotilla from leaving Greece together. She writes, “The U.S. passengers speculate that the Obama Administration is using economic blackmail on the Greek government… The United States may well be using its leverage at the IMF over the implementation of an ongoing bailout of European banks with massive Greek debts to compel the Greek government to block the U.S. boat.”

Global Exchange stands behind the Flotilla passengers, and are inviting you to get involved.

The nonviolent movement for a free Palestine has been challenging, empty-handed, one of the most powerful armies in the world. This flotilla is just one in a series of civilian attempts to break the brutal and illegal military siege of Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians and solidarity activists go out to the streets every week to demonstrate peacefully against the Israeli military; thousands have been injured or imprisoned; dozens have been killed. Just this week, six years of nonviolent demonstrations in one little village have succeeded in returning some of the stolen olive grove land to the villagers. We can join this incredible movement by responding to the 2005 call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel until it abides by International Law and International standards of human rights.


  1. Follow the Audacity of Hope and all the updates from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
  2. Sign the petition to President Obama to ensure the safe passage for the U.S. Boat to Gaza.
  3. Use your power as a consumer, investor and citizen to end the ongoing impunity and direct support to Israel. Sign the petition to get one of the largest financial services in the US to divest from the Israeli occupation.
  4. Join the Economic Activism for Palestine program at Global Exchange.

Finally, if you are local in the Bay Area, join us on Thursday June 30, at 7pm, Berkeley City College, 2050 Center Street. 1/2 block from downtown Berkeley BART, for the West Coast premiere of Cultures of Resistance, a documentary showcasing global civil society in using art and culture as a means of resistance, by filmmaker and Freedom Flotilla passenger Iara Lee. Purchase tickets online.